A universal serial bus (USB) record player is a device that can play vinyl records and output the audio data into a digital format for storage on a hard drive. This process of digitization is useful for archival purposes or enabling a vinyl record collection to be stored and replayed on portable mp3 players or computers. While it is possible to digitize vinyl using an analog turntable with common phono outputs, a USB record player offers a much simpler and often cheaper solution.
Vinyl purists tend to consider digitizing analog recordings anathema. They contend that the defining nature of vinyl sound is lost because the nuanced frequencies of analog audio are reduced to digital bits. Supporters point out that using a USB record player to archive rare and fragile vinyl albums ultimately helps preserve them and makes them easier to share.
Philosophical considerations aside, all that is needed to successfully convert vinyl to digital is a computer, a USB record player, and audio conversion software. There are a variety of free and paid software programs available designed for this kind of audio conversion, and online reviews are helpful in deciding which particular program to use. Given the nature of the USB connection, a USB record player can be used with virtually any operating system.
Most software programs have their own specific procedures that are involved in recording and converting a record. The most basic steps involve making sure the output levels from the USB record player are adequate and specifying both the desired format and compression levels. Higher levels of compression mean the songs take up less space on a hard drive, but at the expense of frequencies that are eliminated. Most people interested in archiving their vinyl collections are concerned with retaining the imperfections inherent in the original analog recordings, including scratches and fuzziness. To this end, they opt for minimal or no compression in their digital files.
Users generally have the option of recording song by song or side by side. Some programs are capable of automatically tracking an album, recognizing gaps between songs, and separating them out as separate track files, but the bulk require this to be done manually. Whether by song or by side, the user must monitor the conversion process and enter the song and album information by hand. As a result, large collections can take hundreds of hours to fully convert and organize.